This week we reviewed the Meze Empyrean headphones, the first high-end audiophile model by the Romanian manufacturer. The brand had already pleasantly surprised and won over hi-fi headphone enthusiasts with the Meze 99 Classics, an elegant closed-back model featuring solid wood ear cups and a musical performance lauded by both users and the international press.
The Meze Empyrean is a hi-fi circumaural model with an open-backed design and a price tag of almost 3000 euros. These headphones are equipped with innovative and exclusive isodynamic transducers created by the company Rinaro. Since the 80s, this Ukrainian company has been specialized in the production of planar magnetic drivers. These headphones are imposing due to their size, but also because of the quality of the materials used and the care taken during their production. Does the sound restitution justify such a high price?
There is no need to beat around the bush; these headphones have already been praised by the specialized press from around the world, and we were so impressed by them that we can only answer this question with a resounding yes!
Meze Empyrean review: packaging and accessories
The Meze Empyrean comes with a 2.5 meter cable (with OCC copper conductors) terminated by a 6.35mm jack connector, as well as two pairs of ear pads. The first pair is covered in leather and the second in velvet fabric. All of this comes in a hard carry case.
The Romanian manufacturer also provides optional Furukawa cables made with braided wires that can be used for different applications. Consequently, in their catalog you will find two balanced cables in PCUHD (99.99% pure 4N grade copper) with a 2.5mm jack or 4.4mm Pentaconn jack connector (both 1.2m in length) that are meant to be used with DAPs. Meze also provides four silver-plated PCUHD cables: three balanced with an XLR (2.5m), 2.5mm jack or 4.4mm Pentaconn jack connector (both 1.2m), as well as an unbalanced cable with a 6.35mm jack connector (2.5m).
It should be noted that the Meze Empyrean’s impedance is inferior to 32 ohms and that it boasts a high sensitivity rating for a pair of headphones with isodynamic transducers, with 100 dB for 1 milliwatt. Therefore, the Meze Empyrean headphones are suited to DAPs and may even be used with a smartphone or a computer that is paired with a USB DAC, ideally using an audiophile playback software such as Audirvana+.
Meze Empyrean review: unboxing
As soon as we received the package for this review, we were impressed by the Meze Empyrean headphones. Once we opened the box, we discovered a beautiful hard carry case in reinforced aluminum. It is branded with the logo on the outside and lined inside with thick protective foam. The headphones and accessories are neatly stored in cut out cavities in the protective lining.
The carry case is robust and boasts an excellent finish: the handle features a counter spring so that it lowers automatically, and smoothly, when you are no longer holding it. There are feet on the underneath of the case so that it isn’t scratched when you lie it down. Mounted onto solid hinges, the lid is held open by two articulated cylinders.
Inside the case, the headphones already look very imposing, an impression that was confirmed once we held them in our hands. The earcups are very wide, the pads very thick, the entire object is of very high quality. The Meze Empyreans are impressive.
Meze Empyrean review: build
The Meze Empyrean headphones have an ultra-light headband made from carbon fibers which splits in two parts. This headband features a wide grained leather headrest whose patented shape evenly distributes the weight of the headphones across the head. The name of the headphones and the letters R and L are embossed on the leather. The grille is also manufactured with extreme precision to obtain a genuine aluminium lace. In addition to the very appealing esthetic aspect, these numerous perforations allow the transducers to breathe, which is beneficial for the aeration of the sound stage.
Each ear cup is fixed onto a metal rod thanks to which it can slide up and down and rotate 360°. The chassis is mounted onto a hinge with a counter spring so that it can be moved vertically and sit snugly against the sides of the listener’s head.
The Meze Empyrean is a circumaural model. Its wide, comfortable earpads therefore cover the listener’s ears entirely without applying any pressure on them. The memory foam used is particularly thick and soft, which adds to the headphones’ bulky allure. Interchangeable, the pads can be removed and put on very easily. A slightly magnetic ring holds them in place on the chassis. The Y-cable that comes with the Meze Empyrean headphones uses lockable 4-pin balanced connectors. Each connector can be identified by a colored band (right = red, left = blue).
Meze Empyrean review: hybrid isodynamic membrane
The Meze Empyrean headphones feature isodynamic drivers, also called planar magnetic or orthodynamic drivers. This technology can also be found in many HiFiMAN, Audeze and MrSpeakers headphones and uses a large diaphragm, which is extremely thin and light, with an integrated metal structure that serves as a voice coil. When a current flows through this structure, it is set in motion by the electromagnetic field generated by the two layers of powerful magnets placed on either side.
Antonio Meze called upon the Rinaro Isodynamics company to develop an exclusive transducer to meet his audiophile demands. They created a hybrid model that integrates two independant voice coils, which both have a different shape and surface area, into a single membrane. The powerful neodymium magnets placed on either side of the membrane take the same shape to follow the curves of the coils.
This unique design allows the different frequencies to be more accurately distributed to the ear canal to optimize spatialization and stereo imaging. With a classic orthodynamic driver, the sounds generated by the membrane do not reach the ear canal simultaneously. The sounds created by the upper part of the membrane are first reflected by the auricle and reach the ear canal with varying delays. This phenomenon has a negative effect on the concentration and spatialization of the soundstage, especially for high and low frequencies.
The isodynamic driver developed by Rinaro is the perfect solution to this problem. The lower part of the membrane, positioned opposite the ear canal when wearing the headphones, features a spiral coil. It is tasked primarily with reproducing the high and mid frequencies that enter the ear canal without any delay, improving spatialization. The upper part of the membrane uses a switchback coil that creates a zig-zag across the membrane. It handles the reproduction of low frequencies which are channelled by the auricle towards the ear canal.
Meze Empyrean review: listening impressions
We first tested the Meze Empyrean headphones with its standard 6.35mm jack cable connected to the headphone output of the Cayin CS-55A KT88 amp. Connected to a computer running Windows via USB, we were able to listen to Deezer (MP3 320kbps) and Qobuz (Studio subscription, streaming up to 24-bit/192kHz, Wasapi Exclusive mode) from their respective Windows apps, as well as Hi-Res audio files (24/96 and 24/92 FLAC) using Foobar 2000 (ASIO).
Once placed on the head, the Meze Empyrean headphones prove to be very comfortable. At 430 grams, they are on par with most hi-fi headphones. However, you quickly forget about their weight and size thanks to the design: the leather headband does its job perfectly by optimally distributing the weight of the headphones across the head. There is very little pressure exerted on the ears. The thickness of the foam and the ergonomic shape of the earpads allow the auricle to breathe. They are very comfortable.
What happens when playback starts? We might as well cut to the chase: the Meze Empyrean captivated us from the very first notes.
We started by listening to Chris Isaak’s Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing on Deezer. The reverb on the initial guitar notes immediately provided depth and heralded a beautifully spacious soundstage. This was confirmed with the first bass notes that unfolded with remarkable ease – the Empyrean goes very low – and the first cymbal crashes were delightfully clear. The track’s rhythmic base was perfectly positioned to accommodate Chris Isaak’s voice. His way of rapidly repeating the first line is perfectly rendered. It’s clear, fast, and perfectly outlined.
When the song started to take off with its saturated guitars and racing drums, everything stayed in place. We could clearly distinguish each element composing the soundstage, and an overall sense of coherence was maintained throughout the song. Despite the limitations to sound quality imposed by our subscription (MP3 at 320kbps), the Meze Empyrean knew how to deliver the music in a very alluring and soft way that was never aggressive.
With the second track we listened to, Morcheeba’s Never Undo, the Meze Empyrean surprised us with the density and depth of the lows. When we turned the volume up, it confirmed just how well it handles this frequency range, with impact and excellent stability. Although they weren’t full-bodied, the lows impressed us with their presence and magnitude. At the other end of the spectrum, Skye Edwards’ voice gently rested in our ears, with clarity and sensuality. Dreamy…
One after the other, we listened to tracks with a growing sense of enjoyment, our finger on the volume control to turn the sound up just a little bit more each time. In doing so, the expert handling, softness and serenity of the restitution wasn’t altered, no matter the volume level. This is one of the main assets of these headphones: the Meze Empyrean always proves to be balanced, precise and never tiring.
We continued our review with the Pioneer U-5 headphone amp, connected to our PC via USB. This gave us the opportunity to try the balanced cable with its 4-pin XLR connector provided by the Romanian manufacturer for the review of the Empyrean. Paired with the Pioneer, the Meze Empyrean gained clarity, verve and impact, leaving behind the warmth provided by the Cayin. It also acquired a very satisfying extension in the lows. The restitution became much more full-bodied.
With the Pioneer/Meze pairing, we were offered a much more detailed restitution, which was slightly more analytical, but never tiring. And what magnitude! With Maverick Sabre’s “Preach” (album When I wake up, “only” in CD quality), the width and depth of the soundstage was quite astonishing. The singer’s voice unfolded deeply and rang with clarity, the choir filled the vast stage. We could precisely pinpoint each instrument with ease, almost to the point where they were visible to us. Everything was balanced and right where it was supposed to be. A true delight…
Meze Empyrean review: compared to…
Focal Stellia: with its dynamic drivers, the Focal Stellia provides a restitution which is just as precise and bright in the highs but globally more focused on the mids. With their closed-back design, the Focal headphones efficiently isolate the listener, something that the open-backed conception of the Meze Empyrean doesn’t allow. In return, the Romanian headphones offer a soundstage with superior width and depth, comparable to that of the Focal Utopia. The Meze model also has the upper hand over the two Focal headphones in terms of extension and impact in the lows.
Sennheiser HD-800S: despite a sound signature which slightly emphasize the highs, the Sennheiser headphones won us over with their sense of detail and spacious soundstage. More dynamic, the Meze Empyrean seemed to be more balanced thanks to its more efficient response in the lows which brought density and substance to the restitution. Additionally, they are easier to drive, even though we feel that using a headphone amp is essential to fully exploit all of its assets. The Meze Empyrean comes out on top.
Meze Empyrean review: conclusion
As you may have noticed, we were impressed, wowed even, by the Meze Empyrean headphones. At ease with standard quality audio streams, they proved to be excellent for high resolution listening. Precise, detailed and balanced, they know how to reproduce all of the musical nuances handed to them with exactitude and generosity, providing them with monumental magnitude and expansion. With the appropriate headphone amp, they are a true delight for the ears. What an experience!
What we liked:
– The amazing comfort
– The magnitude and spaciousness of the soundstage
– The softness, nuance and precision
– The deep and energetic lows, the silky and outlined highs
– The carry case
What we would have liked:
– Not to have looked like a Teletubby when we put it on!